Chapter 13 : Reticence
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Severus wadded up the shred of parchment in his fist and tossed it aside. “Why are you still standing here?” he hissed at the first-year student sent as a messenger. “Shoo.”
The little girl in pigtails and round glasses gave a squeak and hastily hurried away, tripping when she reached the winding stairway that led out of the dungeons. He scanned the classroom swarming with dunderheads, thinking to himself that with every year, they all seemed to grow stupider and stupider. Half of the dunces sitting before him could probably not brew a simple remedy for a headache if their lives depended on it.
“I shall be gone for a few minutes,” he announced silkily to the blank faces of his seventh-years. “You are to complete your potions and have a vial of it ready for inspection upon my return. Any tomfoolery shall be reported to me, are we clear?” The Slytherins puffed themselves up, looking superior, and Fred and George Weasley rolled their eyes.
“Not like we’re going to blow anything up,” one of them remarked.
“Five points from Gryffindor for your impertinence,” Severus added, and then left them.
He trekked upstairs, black robes billowing behind him, and strode with purpose through the castle, ducking through hidden passageways and emerging in a snow-covered courtyard. Severus melted a dry path ahead of him with his wand – he’d never much cared for snow.
When he finally completed the long journey to the Owlery, he found Albus Dumbledore gazing out the stone window, his hands clasped behind his back. “I trust there is a good reason why I am here?” Snape spoke, an acidic taste to his voice.
“I called you to this particular location because it is not currently being watched by Dolores Umbridge,” Dumbledore explained cordially. “My apologies if you found it tiresome. I confess that I rather enjoy privacy in my conversations, especially when the subject matter is so delicate.”
“Related to the Order of the Phoenix,” Dumbledore continued, turning sideways now so that he was still watching the sky but his profile was easily observable to Severus. “I believe I do not need to brief you on the background of Nora Prewett?” His mouth twitched, and Severus resented it. How the old man knew everything, Severus would never comprehend.
“I am well acquainted with her, as you already know,” Severus replied, not wishing to elaborate and sensing that Dumbledore was pondering over their time together at the New Year’s Ball. “What is the relevance?”
“The relevance, Severus, is that she has discovered an item in the home of Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange; an item pertaining to how the death of her father and uncle transpired. It appears there are Death Eaters we did not even know existed.”
“Who?” Severus asked sharply.
“Her name is Desdemona Rupnik,” the headmaster answered, his tone light and affable. “And as it turns out, she is also responsible for the Lestranges getting their hands on Frank and Alice Longbottom.”
“Rupnik?” Severus repeated, frowning. “I have never heard of her.”
Dumbledore smiled. “You are assuming that because she was behind such cardinal victories for Lord Voldemort, she is a person of value and brainpower. Regretfully, however, Desdemona is no such individual. She is a fool, and I would like to request that you find out more about her.”
“Because fools are potentially the most dangerous kind of person,” Albus informed him, beaming genially at the puzzled professor. “And she may be ignorant about many things she has done, inadvertent or intentional. We also have a mutual friend, I believe, who needs answers.”
“Nora,” Severus murmured. “You say that it is because of this Rupnik woman that Gideon Prewett is dead?”
“The blood is on her hands, yes. Apparently she was Petula Prewett’s friend for three years. She fancies herself some sort of espionage genius now, but I believe she did not plan selling out her friend ahead of time, and didn’t strike on the opportunity until it wielded something that would directly benefit herself. When such an occasion did crop up, however, Desdemona handed over all information on the Prewetts to her lover, Evan Rosier, because she thought it would make him more attached to her. It was his birthday present.”
“Evan Rosier did not murder the Prewett brothers,” Snape interrupted swiftly. “He was not named by Nora Prewett at the conviction.” Dumbledore turned to analyze him with those blue eyes that seemed to X-Ray their subjects. Severus felt the shame welling up inside him, awake to the knowledge that both were reflecting on Snape’s days at Hogwarts and as a budding Death Eater. Evan Rosier had been among Snape’s closest friends, but had died soon after the downfall of Voldemort; where he’d met his match in little Harry Potter…that horrible night…that fateful night in Godric’s Hollow…
The word thundered in his mind for the space of a heartbeat – before he could brush away the image of the only woman he ever loved – with her deep red hair and compelling green eyes. He could still hear her laugh, a tinkling, musical sound, fluttering out of his personal Pandora’s Box. Even all these years later when nothing remained of Lily Evans except for a gathering of bones; even when Lily’s majestic laugh was now only an empty echo, his love for her was a ghost that followed him endlessly. He could not make it stop, could not control it. He had endeavored to replace her, for someone else to fill that aching hole and ease his pain. So far this plan was not working as quickly as he’d hoped.
Severus took a restorative breath, banishing those thoughts before they could really take root and show on his face. “Rosier never mentioned a woman, either.”
“It will all come to light at tonight’s meeting,” the headmaster said. “You will have the chance to observe the letter for yourself and glean as much from it as possible. It is no secret that you have more insight into the world of Death Eaters than any of the rest of us, Severus. But in my own inexpert opinion, I believe that Mr. Rosier was not nearly as emotionally involved with Miss Rupnik as she would have liked to believe, and nothing short of Desdemona murdering Harry Potter herself could have affected that indifference. But, again, that is just one wizard’s opinion.”
“And she lives?” Severus inquired, his mouth turning down into a grim scowl.
“We have no idea,” Dumbledore replied neatly. “The trail begins and ends with the letter Nora has found. It would be an understatement to say she is upset by these revelations. They have opened up old wounds for her, as you can imagine.”
“I will find out everything I can,” Severus assured him. This was not something he would do to humor Dumbledore; he harbored a strange, inexplicable interest with Nora’s welfare and was…uncomfortable…with the notion of her under any kind of distress. He found this baffling, but preferred not to dwell on it too much.
“And Severus…” the old man spoke again, his blue eyes twinkling and a smile spreading within the folds of his silvery beard. “Let’s not get too carried away with deductions from Gryffindor’s House points, shall we? You were young once, and I daresay you caused about as much trouble as the rest of them…”
Dumbledore merrily departed from the Owlery, leaving Severus with an ugly expression on his face and contemplating the benefits of an early retirement.
At ten o’ clock that evening, Severus locked the door to his private living quarters, just beyond his office in the dungeons, and made to depart from Hogwarts. He did not cross paths with Dumbledore, Rubeus, or Minerva, who were also to attend the meeting.
Oh, how Severus abhorred stepping foot into Number Twelve! It crawled with the germs of Sirius Black, and he felt his nerves writhing in jealousy whenever the two of them – Sirius and Nora – mentioned any stories he did not understand, referencing occasions that occurred while they were by themselves. Inside jokes. He hated the idea of Nora all alone with that nauseating man. How could she bear his arrogance, his self-pity and overbearing narcissism? Surely she must see through it. Surely, she must only still be living there because she felt she had no other options.
These meetings were few and far between, nearly always taking place after dark now to decrease the likelihood of Umbridge getting wind of anything. Severus felt his normally airtight emotions tearing in half – the pleasure of seeing Nora versus the pain of seeing her there with Sirius. He did not like to sit around trying to identify these feelings and sort them out, and found that when he chose only to lurk on the sidelines and enjoy, everything was made much simpler. He wasn’t bothered by the fact that he would never be with her; he merely wanted to see her every now and again and that would be good enough for him.
In truth, his heart felt a bit rusty around the edges. The emotions he’d thought had died along with Lily were now blossoming back to life, and he hadn’t the vaguest idea of how to treat them – therefore, he did nothing with them. He pretended they did not exist. Inviting Nora to the New Year’s Ball had not been a declaration of anything, but just another golden opportunity to spend prolonged periods of time with her. And besides the interval where they’d been so rudely interrupted by Caradoc’s idiot son, he was the happiest he’d been since his adolescence. There was something familiar about that Prewett girl, something he couldn’t quite place, that drew him to her. He would never be easy until he knew what it was.
Severus exited Hogwarts grounds and apparated, staring once more onto the derelict doorway of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He gazed sourly upon the twisted serpent doorknocker, not wishing to touch it. Etiquette reproached that Severus should at least ring the doorbell first, but he loathed the idea of stooping to such measures, giving Black the status of superiority, the acknowledgement that Severus was a guest under his roof. He was trying to make up his mind when Minerva appeared behind him and said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Severus.” She unlocked the door with her wand and marched inside, barely holding it open for him before striding down the narrow passage.
A proverbial stir of unease came over him as he reflexively peered over the banisters to the third landing. Severus swallowed a lump in his throat, picturing yet again what the inside of Nora’s bedroom might look like, and continued into the long room at the end of the corridor. The dining room was typically where meetings were held – another thing Severus found he did not like. Sirius and Nora never used this room when other people weren’t over, he could just feel it. The twosome always sat down in the kitchen together.
And Severus found himself wanting to be in the room where she often resided.
If he was here in the old dining room of sorts, then he was just another member of the Order. But if he was somewhere more sentimental, then he was a person of meaning to Nora, allowed into her secret life. He dismally wished he did not hover just on the outskirts of this metaphorical door, the door he did not yet have access to. What would it take for her to let him in there? And what’s more – did he really want to leave the safety of numbness behind?
When he entered the rectangular space, other Order members were choosing places to sit, and the mood was decidedly tense. Black especially seemed to have adopted a very somber aura, and Severus tacked that to the list of things he resented. Black must have been here comforting Nora all day, abusing this cast-iron excuse to wrap his arm around her shoulders and let her cry into his shirt. And now, of course, he was going to be holier than thou – Nora’s closest confidante – and sit at the head of the table with that fake frown on his smug little face, gathering condolences for Nora as though they were an interchangeable pair and one could be used in place of the other. Severus glowered. He’s just lapping it up.
Arthur, squinting his eyes through a pair of reading glasses, was scanning a very old-looking sheet of yellow parchment, his eyebrows up in his hairline and mouth slightly open from the concentration of trying to block everyone’s noises out. The texture of the parchment had been worn so thin with age or handling that it had taken on a transparent quality, and if it weren’t for the fact that the ink had also rubbed away over the years, Severus probably would have been able to read the backwards print from his position.
Andromeda’s daughter, the Metamorphmagus, was squeezed between the werewolf Lupin and Auror Alastor Moody. Neither seemed too chuffed about the lack of legroom, but Andromeda’s offspring was all smiles, oddly enough. Severus allowed his eyes to rove, as no one yet was worth paying any attention to. But the one person he looked forward to seeing was absent from the table.
“First thing's first, let’s find out more about this Desdemona character,” Black announced. “Is anyone familiar with her?”
“I am,” the Metamorphmagus interjected. “Somewhat, at least. Nora’s mentioned her before, though probably not since our second year at Hogwarts. She used to be chums with Petula.”
“We already gathered that much,” Black responded in a flat voice. “How about anyone else? Anyone know more about her role as a Death Eater?” His eyes fell significantly upon Severus, who bristled. “Anything you’d like to add, Snape, seeing as how you’ve got a front-row ticket to Voldemort’s Freak Show?”
“You seem to have taken it upon yourself to begin the meeting, but I contribute nothing until the person central to this dilemma is present,” Severus said in a quiet, spiteful tone. “Excuse me for possessing manners; you may not be able to recognize what they are and I’m sorry to confuse your underdeveloped little brain.”
“So in other words, you have no idea,” Sirius said in a loud, dismissive voice, turning his attention to Shacklebolt. “What say you, Kingsley?”
“Did you not hear me?” Severus hissed, flushing slightly from negative vibes radiating out of the many pairs of eyes on his face. “Wait for Lenora.”
Sirius Black cocked his head, looking indolent and almost amused. With a calm, patronizing voice, he said, “Nora is distraught, obviously. She will not be joining us tonight. She is up in her bedroom. Don’t worry, Snape – I’ll give her your sentiments later.” He winked.
Severus could no longer pay attention to the droning that filled the room, the rest of the Order guessing what might have become of Rupnik. He felt nothing but cold rage as he watched Black’s lips move, taking charge of the situation as though he spoke for Nora, as though he were equally affected by her troubles. Severus’s mouth turned down into a pronounced sneer, hating him. He detested absolutely everything about him, but simultaneously he would have given anything to be him; to have a respectably tolerable girl under his roof while he whittled away his time with friends and trivial activities, pretending to actually serve a purpose with the Order but really just stewing in comfort. None of these men went to sleep at night with visions of the Dark Lord’s recent murders in their heads. None of them, honestly, had to risk their necks on a daily basis.
These insipid idiots weren’t getting anywhere. Dumbledore was the only one in the lot with a stick of sense, and perhaps Minerva too, but the rest were far too inferior. How would they ever function without Dumbledore standing over them giving orders? How utterly weak.
Severus would not be boasting to state that he was intelligent, to be sure. Who besides him could so gracefully maneuver a wand, never breaking a sweat and always coming out the victor? Who besides him not only invented spells, but also performed them with the dexterity and elegance of a lion? His skills with potion-making, with Occlumency and wandwork, with the Dark Arts and Legilimency – were incomparable. He did not count Dumbledore and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, as both were admittedly more talented and therefore locked away into a different compartment. But when it came to any of the rest of these trite, talentless simpletons – he outstripped them. Sirius was nothing more than a bereft, egotistical dog and Severus found him laughable.
Severus had no intentions of handling the letter. It had already been passed around by everyone else, and he did not desire to touch something already infested with Black’s fingerprints. He was the most cunning, and he would find out about Rupnik without assistance from a few scratched words, probably within a matter of seconds once he decided to really think about it.
He envisioned Evan Rosier as he’d known him – young and handsome. Severus still felt a twinge of envy when he thought of him, even after Evan lay in his grave for over a dozen winters. He recalled the throngs of Slytherin girls who would cloud around Evan, tripping over themselves to get a closer look. He’d had luxurious chestnut curls that scattered across his forehead, and a broad dimpled smile accentuated with an unnatural number of pearly white teeth. He was conceited and vain, but he was also well-connected. His father was within the Dark Lord’s inner band of followers already, and it was through Rosier that Severus sought his power. His only aspiration had been for a little recognition of his cleverness and ability, some formal status that showed he was worth listening to. He wanted his enemies to fear him and be sorry they’d ever called him names, ever made fun of him and tried to discredit his talents…
If Nora’s mother had been linked to Rupnik, there would be a risk that Nora might know where Rupnik lived. The traitor would abandon that house for caution, and it was clear where she would go next. Severus smirked to himself – he found it obvious, at least. These pillocks could dance around it for days and still not figure out what was right under their noses.
Dumbledore hinted that Rosier didn’t hold the woman in the same esteem that she held him. After Evan’s death, she would most likely want to sink her claws into the remnants of her lover’s memory, and skulk somewhere close to a place that would remind her of him, with the mindset that occupying Evan’s territory would bring her closer to his spirit. She would fancy herself the living speaker and thinker for Evan – interchangeable – as Sirius was pretending to be with Nora at this second.
It was glaringly apparent that Rupnik was living in Evan Rosier’s old home, the rickety three-story house in Kent that Evan had moved into with his friend shortly before both were killed by Aurors in their struggle to escape. Evan had died believing Severus was a kindred Death Eater, and Severus was a Secret-Keeper. Moody had the most precise history of Rosier aside from himself, as he was the one who apprehended the young Death Eater – and Rosier made sure to take a chunk of Moody’s nose with him before he was ultimately killed while resisting arrest. Moody might have a vague idea about where to look next, but he wasn’t a Secret-Keeper. None of the others would ever find the place under its Fidelius Charm, even if they were strolling right in front of it. Severus, however, knew exactly where the house was located. The perks, he supposed, of having tickets to Voldemort’s Freak Show.
Severus was gloatingly pondering all of this to himself while casting supercilious glances over the rest of them, who were poring over old books and papers several had brought, searching for Rupnik’s name to find clues. And because he was so attuned to ignoring the racket they made, he realized with a sudden disquiet that he could hear nothing else. But it was more than that – he could sense nothing else.
“You’re wasting your time,” Severus spoke snidely to the room, but none of them paid him any mind. He folded his hands together, unable to throw that sensation of something being wrong. He had no idea how he knew, but he knew…
“Nora’s gone, you herd of imbeciles,” he mused in a bored voice.
Sirius snorted. “What are you on about now?”
Severus gazed evenly at him, the contempt unfurling within but not showing on his features. “Ask him.” He jerked his head at Alastor Moody, who studied Severus with one normal eye while the magnified, electric blue one whizzed in its socket. The enlarged iris trained itself on the kitchen ceiling, plowing through floor after floor above until it reached its destination. His scarred face puckered into a malignant scowl, and Severus did not need to waste his Legilimens skills on him to know that he’d found the bedroom empty. Neither, evidently, did Sirius Black.
“Damn it!” Black bellowed, and fled from the room. Severus was massively curious despite the indifferent attitude he showcased, and followed him in hot pursuit.
When they stumbled into Nora’s bedroom, Sirius seized a piece of parchment lying on the center of the bed and drank in the words, his skin draining of color. The second he was finished, Severus took the paper from him and read:
If all goes according to plan, you’ll never have to read this. You’ll spend all evening under the impression that I am brooding up in my room and I’ll be back before you’ve gotten the chance to know the difference. But I somewhat doubt this, as you know me so well that you’ll probably get suspicious, and I know you well enough to approximate that it won’t be long before you come snooping around. If you do – don’t be alarmed. I’ve figured out where to find Desdemona, and I’m going to kill her. Wish me luck, won’t you? See you at breakfast!
Dumbledore appeared over Severus’s shoulder and snatched the letter away. Sirius was staring at the open window in helpless bewilderment, and Severus repressed the reflex to rub his superior knowledge in Black’s face. Instead he hesitated and replied, “I know where she is.”
“Where?” Black’s eyes were true to his name, all of the arrogance and hauteur dissolving under a sheath of panic. “Tell me!”
Severus relished his expression. “And let you play the hero? I think not.”
Sirius’s face contorted with anger. “You bloody idiot, this isn’t about being a hero! Has it never entered your tiny mind that perhaps she’s being hounded by masses of Death Eaters as we speak? What are you going to do, tell your mates you’re sorry, but they’re not allowed to kill her?”
“If that is the case, I have more of an advantage than you do,” Severus retorted caustically, “as I have an ‘in’ with them and you do not. They will listen to me. I can think of something. You, on the other hand, would only get in my way; although I might be satisfied in watching them finish you off.”
“You’d better tell me where she is, Snape,” Sirius roared. “I know why you’re doing this – trying to get into Nora’s good books, swooping in to save the day.”
“Exactly the same thing that you’re intending to do!” Severus boomed, his nostrils flaring.
“That’s the difference between you and me!” Sirius cried adamantly. “I’m not a conniving, selfish little prat like you are. You can’t possibly comprehend what it is to do something for another person without receiving anything in return. I want to go to her aid because I care about her – you want to go to her aid so that she’ll care about you.”
“While you’ve been rambling on, Nora could have died by now,” Severus told him cuttingly, their faces mere inches from each other.
“Go, Severus,” Dumbledore issued quietly. Severus tossed one last disdainful look at Black before leaving the room, dismounting the stairs, and stepping outside Number Twelve. The Rosier House in Kent, he thought to himself, and vanished with a crack.
He materialized on the pavement outside the sagging old building. Its white paint had peeled off to reveal a grey shade underneath, and the eaves were choked with dead vines. The state of the Rosier House did not shock Severus, as it had always been this way. When Evan moved in, Severus teased him for buying such a piece of rubbish. Evan was proud of it, though – happy to be gone from his father’s elegant mansion and to be supporting himself. Severus didn’t know what he’d expected – loud voices, curses flying everywhere – but he found it dangerously silent, its windows boarded shut and the post slot nailed tight. Twenty paces and he was standing on the decrepit front porch.
He stepped carefully over the threshold into the moldy old house, his eyes watering and nose filling with the putrid stench of unwashed bodies. None of the lights were turned on, but now that he was inside he could hear a high-pitched voice in the neighboring room.
“You talk or you die!” the voice shrieked. “I will kill you, don’t you understand?”
“How many times do I have to remind you that I don’t care?” came a drawling response. Severus rounded the corner into a dim sitting room, where Nora was staring irately at the slumped figure of a grey-haired woman, who had the distinctive appearance of one who’d aged themselves remarkably quickly in a short period of time. The witch couldn’t realistically have been any older than Severus himself, but she looked like she could have been his mother. From the state of her hair, the house, her smell…she had given up. Rupnik was wearing a holey dressing gown, but bizarrely enough had painted a layer of red lipstick on her mouth.
Severus stared from Nora to the haggard woman drooping in the armchair. Nora was shaking, but her adversary looked simply bored. She yawned, exposing the discoloration of her teeth, and Snape wrinkled up his nose, revolted. He also realized that he’d seen her before, but hadn’t given her much consideration at the time. She’d looked beautiful then, sensational. But the real question –
“How did you manage to get in here?” he inquired of Nora, who would not pry her eyes off of the listless woman. “This dwelling is under a Fidelius.”
“She took me here once,” Nora answered stonily. “My mother and father were visiting my uncle while he was in hiding somewhere else, and they asked Desdemona to babysit me. She didn’t think there might be repercussions someday about dragging a six-year-old along to her boyfriend’s house, but I have a very long, very accurate memory.”
“Ah,” the woman croaked. “I wondered.” She paused. “You know, I thought I might see you sooner. Pretty thick, don’t you think, that it took so long for you to figure it out? Your father gets blown up, and someone you’d seen every day for nearly half your life suddenly disappears. They say you’re smart, but I’m really not buying into it.”
Nora aimed her wand at Rupnik’s throat, looking demented. “Tell me what I want to know. I won’t offer you another chance.”
Instead of answering, Rupnik’s eyes flitted lazily over Severus. “Oh yes, I heard that you were pretending to be one of them,” she said, looking quite at her leisure and not the least bit disturbed about the fact that two people had broken into her house and had wands drawn on her.
“You heard Nora,” Severus replied sleekly. “The longer you talk, the longer you live.”
“Exactly why I’ve been beating around the bush,” Desdemona replied lightly. “I’ve been wanting to die for many years, you see. You could say that this is a pivotal moment for me.”
“And you couldn’t manage dying sooner?” Severus countered tauntingly. “You miserable little Squib, don’t you dare talk to me about wishing you were dead.”
“Don’t know why you’ve got your wand in my face, Snape,” Rupnik commented, jerking her thumb at Nora. “You’re a Death Eater, aren’t you? Well, do what Death Eaters do. Quit messing around and just kill her.”
“The only one who is going to die is you,” he spat.
“Just as well.” She closed her eyes and smiled, wiggling back in her chair to be more comfortable. “Let the last testament of Desdemona Rosier be that she welcomed death with open arms.”
Severus lowered his wand. “Your surname isn’t Rosier. You and Evan never married.”
Rupnik’s eyes flashed open. “We were supposed to be. But he was murdered two weeks before our wedding.”
“No,” Nora seethed. “The word ‘murder’ has bad connotations. My father and uncle were murdered. Rosier was simply put to justice. He deserved what he got and if I’d been there I would have torn out his eyes myself.”
Rupnik’s eyes narrowed into slits, and her fingers curled like claws. “You better never speak about my love like that again, you wretched girl. You should have been killed too, you and your mother both.”
“You said in the letter that my mother was seven months pregnant,” Nora interrupted, breathing heavily. “You’d better tell me everything you know.”
“Are you a dingbat, child? Didn’t I just inform you that I would like to die? That I would rather die than waste my words on scum like yourself? I have spent many years with nothing remaining of the man I love except a portrait. I can talk to him all day long, but he’s only a painting, and I want to be with him in person.”
“You are hasty for death, Desdemona,” Severus hissed, “but if you remember me half as well as you think you do, then you’ll know I do not take mercy on my victims. I draw it out, slowly and painfully, and in the end if you still do not give me what I want, I will render you paralyzed and place you in the Forbidden Forest for the acromantulas to find. Would you rather that?”
Rupnik tapped her chin. “You and I both know that this is an act. You’re not here to hurt me.”
“Wrong answer,” he snapped, and with a swish of his wand she was struck from head to toe with bloody lacerations.
Desdemona screamed, clutching at the torn skin hanging from her flowing wounds. “Agh! Put me right! Put me right and I’ll talk!” Instantly, she was returned to her normal self, but her eyes were huge and her mouth dropped open in a round ‘O’. She stared at Severus, looking flabbergasted. “You!” she exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger. “You traitor!”
“You’re one to talk,” Nora said, wanting desperately to slash Rupnik apart herself. “Now tell the truth. Was my mother really seven months pregnant?”
Desdemona pinched a few sunflower seeds from a bag she was sitting on and chewed them thoughtfully, eyeing Nora with a cynical air. “Yes,” she said at last. “And Petula gave birth to him, too.”
“But the letter –”
“Was dated a few months before Gideon was killed, if you had wits enough to look at it properly. Petula delivered the baby first.”
Nora grabbed Severus’s wrist. “Is she lying?”
Severus reached into Desdemona’s thoughts, so mundane and child-like. The woman could not resist a Legilimens if she’d tried. “No.”
Nora threw a lamp at the wall over Rupnik’s head, shattering it. “She’s lying! She has to be!” she screamed shrilly. “There was no baby.”
“Oh, look who’s suppressing memories!” Rupnik cackled. “You’re telling me you really don’t remember him?” She paused, smiling broadly at the expression on Nora’s face. “Yes, my dear, it was a darling baby boy. Had your dad’s red hair. Cried too much, though…”
Nora pressed the tip of her wand so forcibly into Rupnik’s throat that her skin was rubbed raw, spotted with pinpricks of blood. Gritting her teeth, Nora growled, “What happened to him?”
Desdemona licked her blood-red lips, leering evilly. “He was taken away.”
“By who? When?”
“Just after Gideon and Fabian got what was coming to them. Someone took him from Petula. That’s all I know.” She ticked off the number of tragedies on her fingers. “Let’s see, then. I was responsible for the death or eternal incapacitation of…Alice and Frank…that’s two. And then your parents and uncle, and then whatever happened to your little brother. And then the McKinnons, too – nearly forgot about them!” She grinned. “I’ve really got a knack for it, haven’t I?”
“And you killed Bode,” Nora steamrolled on. “That day I saw you I thought you might be visiting Mum, but you weren’t, were you? You were going up to Broderick’s room, and you were the one who put the Devil’s Snare on his bedside table.”
“Put two and two together, have you?” Desdemona crowed. “Congratulations. My Evan would have been so proud of me, still playing my part after all these years. That’s a lot of people! I’ve done well.”
“Rosier never loved you, he just enjoyed having a pet around to worship him,” Nora jeered. “Even I can see that. And you were such a half-wit that you gave and gave, and for that he took my father’s life. And for that, you will pay.”
“But don’t you want to know more?” the woman screeched madly. “Do you think it’s a mistake that Bellatrix left that letter under the bed? Who keeps an old letter after over a decade? A house-elf would have cleaned it up by now, and Merlin knows she had plenty of elves. No, no, Nora my love. Bellatrix planted that letter there specifically because she knew people would come looking.”
“If she’d wanted to do that, she would’ve put it somewhere more obvious.”
“No,” Desdemona shook her head condescendingly, making a tut-tut noise with her dry tongue. “Because it would have been obvious, as you said. Bellatrix left it there on purpose. She wanted to lure you out.” Her eyes darted between Nora and Snape, her incredulous smile teetering on the brink of laughter. “Are you really that dense? I know how the mind of Bellatrix Lestrange operates, you stupid thing. She wanted this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the portraits from Lestrange Mansion all go running to her, tell her how you reacted. And she meant for you to come and torment me about it.”
Nora smiled dejectedly. “Desdemona, all it ever was, was a piece of rubbish that no one threw away. Nothing more, nothing less. And if you have no other news about the baby, then I’m prepared to grant your wish. How would you like it – the Killing Curse? Or shall I incapacitate you and then do it by hand? I wonder how many knives the kitchen dresser has in its stock.”
“Please!” Desdemona cried. “Please, I didn’t mean what I said before; I don’t want to die! Please, Lenora, I’ve told you everything I know. I’ve helped you, haven’t I? I gave you information.”
“Which means you’ll die either by my hand or Voldemort’s,” Nora stated, and Desdemona flinched at the reference to her master. “Which will it be? Nice, clean stroke, or snake food? You ought to thank me, as I’m giving you the liberty to choose.”
“I beg you,” Rupnik sputtered, the tears streaming down her wrinkled face. “I know more. I can tell you more.”
“Liar!” Nora hollered. And then she was suddenly tranquil, serene. “I think I’m going to just let the Death Eaters get you, to be honest. They’re renowned for the way they deal with turncoats, aren’t they?”
“The boy – the boy’s name is Archer!” Desdemona gasped, seizing a handful of Nora’s green travelling cloak.
“Get off me,” Nora said disgustedly. “And don’t speak to me. You don’t deserve it.”
“Go home,” Severus told Nora over his shoulder, those cavernous black irises never parting from Desdemona’s. “I’m just going to place her under an Imperius Curse, so that she seeks the most agonizing form of death possible. She will go running to the Death Eaters, begging Greyback to eat her alive.”
“NO!” Desdemona screamed. “Please! I beg you! I know more!”
“You lie,” Severus whispered, eyes flashing. “Go home, Nora. Sirius is most worried about you.”
Nora looked uncertain, but the prospect of comforting Sirius seemed to win her over, and she left the house to disapparate. When she was gone, Desdemona gazed at Severus with imploring, teary eyes, hoping that perhaps he’d been bluffing all along.
“I am not going to modify your memory,” Severus announced with repugnant distaste.
“Oh! Thank you!” Desdemona kissed his shoes, deteriorating into a fit of sobs. “Thank you, I knew you couldn’t have crossed over to their side, I –”
“I’m going to kill you myself,” he replied, cutting off her words. “You’re ignorant to believe I would ever let you go, with the potential for your sanity to be restored so that you can run off and tell everyone what you’ve witnessed here.”
“I made a mistake,” Desdemona wept. “I can’t take it back. Everyone has it in them to be wicked, you know – and some just embrace it while others are too frightened to.”
“Only cowards exploit their inner evil,” Severus responded softly.
This was the moment Severus had been waiting for, the moment when her state of mind cracked. He thrived on the last residues of integrity leaking out of her, and he inhaled it like a rejuvenating power. A flash of images crossed his mind, unbidden – a small body of moonlit water, a delicate hand enveloped in his own… Where had it come from? What did it mean? It felt like something from a story he’d read, very long ago... Severus shook his head to clear it.
“You told her you were going to let the Death Eaters get me!” Rupnik protested.
“And that,” he said, “is one of the better aspects of being a Death Eater myself.”
When Desdemona’s lifeless body lay in a sprawling heap on the floor, Severus took one last glimpse around the house of Evan Rosier, where he had once played games of Exploding Snap, drinking firewhisky with his friends while they all talked about which Mudbloods should be wiped out first. And although he noticed the livid, handsome face of Evan Rosier glowering down upon him from a portrait above Desdemona’s armchair, he did not address it. Indeed, he left the painted image of Rosier to observe the body of his dead lover from many years ago. Severus smiled to himself, comforted by the solace that by this time next week, Rosier would have nothing to look at aside from a bloated, decaying corpse.
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